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Published February 20 2014

Forum editorial: Go slow on booze in theaters

A request, not yet formalized, by Marcus Theatres to serve alcoholic beverages in a lounge at West Acres Cinema is yet another wrinkle in Fargo’s perennial debate over how to regulate booze sales. There should be no rush to either approve or scuttle the idea.

The Marcus proposal must be critically considered in the context of the city’s overall regulation of booze and beer sales. That context must include concerns expressed by law enforcement; the unseemly aspects of allowing alcoholic drinks in a dark theater that likely is populated by children; and the mixed message expanded alcoholic beverage sales sends at a time when Fargo and other places in North Dakota are trying to turn back a tide of alcohol abuse.

Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres (Milwaukee: Now there’s a town that knows its beer) has drink lounges in several of its locations in other states. There have been no problems, company officials said. None. That’s nice, but it should have no bearing on Fargo’s decision. The company also said it would limit its lounge customers to two drinks at the lounge, and then police theaters to ensure that patrons, who in some places can bring alcoholic drinks to their seats, do not get unruly. That’s nice, too, but what precisely does “unruly” mean in a movie theater setting?

The initial response to the proposal from the city’s liquor control board (get that: control) was not enthusiastic, but not especially icy, either. It appears the board and eventually the City Commission will give Marcus a fair hearing on the merits, or lack thereof, but likely will not agree to deeply discounting a liquor license for the company. The license fee might be a deal breaker that makes moot approval or rejection of the theater lounge.

The city should proceed deliberately on this one. There is no hurry. The proposal raises fundamental questions about the quality of the movie-going experience, particularly for families. Marcus Theatres does a great job. Its multiplexes are clean, well run and equipped with the latest technology for showing films. For movie fans, it doesn’t get much better. Therefore, the question is: How will serving up a couple of beers or cocktails affect that success?

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.